Dr Bart van de Ven appears in Belgian ‘Story’ magazine
Dr Bart van de Ven appeared in the Dutch magazine “Story” with a three page article about his pioneering work in Facial Feminisation Surgery.
Text of the article:
Jaw surgeon Bart van de Ven (54) is the only facial feminisation expert in the world. He runs the o2 Clinic in Antwerp where trans-gender people can go for a total transformation. His specialty? The feminizing of male faces. The demand is huge, as he received about 180 trans-gender people across the floor last year.
You worked for some time as a jaw surgeon. How did you come up with the idea to focus on the feminizing of male faces?
“In 2002, I spent some time in Kenya. Together with a colleague who is also a jaw surgeon, I was operating on some children with schisis (cleft lip or cleft palate, ed.). One of my Dutch colleagues pointed out the problems faced by trans-gender persons. Just imagine if you were born in the wrong body. He told me that, as a jaw surgeon, he was asked more and more often by trans-gender persons what he could do for them. This occasionally resulted in a surgical operation. I was fascinated by the issue and asked him if I could assist him with such interventions for a year. A few years later I myself received a trans-gender woman across the floor who asked if I would treat her. And then I just took the leap. Very successfully, because there is an enormous demand for such interventions. Every month our website is consulted by approximately 13,000 unique visitors. There are no hard numbers, but the percentage of suicides among trans-gender persons is very high. Hardly any help is available. That is why, for some years now, I have specialized in this field exclusively.
“What exactly does a facial feminisation expert do?”
What I do is make faces more feminine by a combination of various interventions. Approximately 75% of my patients are trans-gender women trapped in a male body. From the 5th year of their lives, these individuals slowly but surely start to realize that they had been born into the wrong body. Many of them are not happy at all. An exaggerated masculine nose or an Adam’s apple will not just magically disappear. Such operations are often very complex, but over the years I have developed my own techniques and instruments to make faces as feminine as possible. This is accompanied by grinding away bone and cartilage. Sometimes I have to move their hairline, because men’s faces are simply shaped different than women’s faces. I also make their noses narrower, and their ears smaller. Or I saw a piece of their chin away. In short, various interventions to work away male characteristics and accentuate the feminine. But in the O2-Clinic we also offer our patients a complete package.
“What does this package comprise?”
As from this year, the O2 Clinic will be completely dedicated to building a feminisation center, and we offer our patients a full service. You can also come to us for permanent hair removal. Normally, this is a painful procedure which takes 80 hours in total, but we can administer intravenous painkillers to almost completely subdue the pain. We also have a plastic surgeon who specializes in surgery on breasts, buttocks, and abdomens. Recently, we also started collaborating with a specialist who feminizes vocal cords. “We will probably, in the near future, engage a hormone specialist, a dermatologist, a style consultant, and a coach who will teach the trans-gender female to move in a feminine way.”
Do patients undergo a psychological test before you start working with them?
“It is a deliberate choice of the O2 Clinic not to do that. Trans-gender persons who opt for hormone therapy or a sex change operation will be subject to a psychological test. These interventions are very definitive and have drastic consequences. If I notice that the patient still has any shadow of doubt, I will not operate. Personally I consider this a good policy. During my whole career I was never asked to undo an operation, and I have done more than 600 operations already. In my view, a psychiatrist cannot offer a trans-gender person very much. Interviews are necessary to establish transgenderism, but making the diagnosis is not very difficult. And why would you wait such a long time to help that person? Waiting lists currently are so incredibly long already. Patients who come here often know our website (www.facialfeminisation.eu) by heart. They know exactly what they are letting themselves in for.
You get mostly trans-gender women across the floor. What is the average profile of such a person?
“I see a wider range of patients. Sometimes they travel thousands of kilometers in order to have their faces measured for shaping it into a female face. I recently received a young trans-gender woman with her father across the floor. They flew from Sydney especially to get consultation here in Antwerp. In early February, the duo will come back and the trans-gender woman will have an operation. This year I also treated eight Belgian patients. The youngest trans-gender woman I operated on was 16 years old. My oldest patient was 80 years old. Most trans-gender people have an operation either at a very young age or at a late stage of their life, usually when their children have left home.
What happens after such major surgery? Do you provide you some form of aftercare?
“After surgery I never allow my patients to go to a hotel, but they stay in a guest house on the upper floor of the O2 Clinic. This is a deliberate choice, because specialized care and support is very important after such intervention. Directly after such an operation their faces often do not look good, and many doubts and questions may arise. For this reason, a coordinator takes each patient under her wing and supports them through this difficult period. These patients need a listening ear and someone who tells them they will be okay. On average, a patient stays a week, unless that person chooses a total transformation. In that case, she stays for several weeks. The coordinator keeps in contact with them, even after their departure. Four months after the operation, I invite each patient for a consultation. This may in Antwerp, but also in London, Berlin, Munich or New York. I travel around the world to follow-up on patients and to see new trans-gender women for consultation. If they decide to have surgery, I also give them a kind of satisfaction guarantee. If they are not happy with their face after surgery, or if I think I can improve their appearance thanks to new techniques, I operate them again free of charge”.
Do patients feel reborn after such a procedure?
“Most of the patients I treat choose first and foremost to make their face more feminine. For them, their face change means a new start. Many of them consider it a rebirth and celebrate this event as an extra birthday. Only patients who are affluent opt for multiple treatments or the total package. This is due mainly to the high cost. A new body easily costs several tens of thousands of euros. This treatment is not refunded. This is particularly unfortunate because trans-gender people often do not function well in society. They do not complete their studies or have problems at work because they were born in the wrong body. Transgenderism remains an underestimated problem associated a large amount of trouble, and affects approximately one percent of the male population worldwide. I therefore advocate that we as a society help these people. If surgery can cure them, then what are we waiting for?”